Particle announces the Mesh board, an easy way to make your DIY talk to itself


Particle – which used to be called Spark – has released the third generation of their tiny, networked computing boards. Their new product, called Mesh, allows you to connect wither to a Wi-Fi or cellular network but also allows you to create a mesh network between multiple Mesh devices. This lets you create a mesh network similar to popular IoT devices from Nest and Netgear. The system, called Thread, lets you select which network you’d like to use – Wi-Fi, LTE, or even Bluetooth Low Energy – and then offers programming via OpenThread technology.

There are three models, the Argon, the Boron, and the Xenon. The Boron, $29, supports LTE while the Argon, $15, connects to Wi-Fi and the $9 Xenon connects only via Bluetooth.

The Particle Mesh essentially allows you to create large mesh networks of sensors, letting you connect multiple disparate devices together wirelessly in order to collect a wider range of data. You could, for example, connect to a pressure sensor to control gas or water valves or put it on a farm to sense soil moisture.

It is shipping in July and is available for pre-sale now.

“In the five years since we launched our first Wi-Fi and cellular connected hardware, more than 140,000 developers have brought their devices online with Particle,” said Zach Supalla, co-founder, in a release. “From the front lines of bringing IoT to life, our developer community uncovered challenges with building local networks, so we designed Mesh to better connect those spaces in between. We’re excited to see the next wave of real IoT take hold by solving real problems with connected products.”

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Particle Mesh from Particle on Vimeo.

Ring acquires smart LED light company Mr. Beams


Ring, the connected home security gadget startup, has acquired Mr. Beams, a maker of LED lighting with wireless connectivity and motion-sensing capabilities. The Mr. Beams acquisition is intended to help Ring bolster its existing portfolio of connected doorbells, video cameras and combination floodlight/cameras with affordable, modular lighting that can integrated with Ring’s software and services.

Mr. Beams’ lights come in a variety of flavors, including pathway lights and lights that can affix easily to exterior walls, can also connect wirelessly, and forthcoming versions due out later this year will be able to trigger based on action detected by Ring’s smart devices, including its Video Doorbell products and smart cameras.

Ring founder James Siminoff says that the tech will help with Ring’s larger goal of making neighborhoods generally safer, as well as protecting individual houses. The small, easy to install lights can be used virtually anywhere, letting homeowners easily create networks of lighting that can illuminate the area should they detect any motion, which might help ward off anyone intending to do any wrong.

Mr. Beams will operate separately as an independent division within Ring, the company says, and will release products under its own brand as well as under Ring’s. the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Amazon acquires connected camera and doorbell startup Blink


Amazon has acquired Blink (via Slashgear), a startup founded in 2014 that builds connected Wi-Fi home security cameras, as well as a new video doorbell introduced earlier this week. The company got its start via a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $1 million for its totally wireless home monitoring system.

Amazon has already made forays into connected home video cameras and even home entry products, including its Cloud Cam and Amazon Key offering for remotely enabling access to your home for delivery people dropping off packages.

What Blink brings to the table is expertise in building connected, wireless home monitoring and security tech that also operates completely wire-free requiring no complicated installation and running on simple, readily available replaceable batteries.

Blink’s Doorbell, for instanced, operates on two AA batteries and should last for about two years of regular use on those. That’s a lot better than rival Ring’s wireless doorbell in terms of battery life – and it costs less, too, at just $99 per unit, with many similar features including motion detection, two-way audio, waterproofing and night vision.

Amazon is clearly interested in owning more of the connected home space, after having tremendous success in the bourgeoning market via products like its Alexa smart speaker. This should have rivals including Ring and Alphabet-owned Nest worried, since between its own offerings and now Blink’s, it has a lot to offer consumers in terms of cost and convenience benefits.

Ultra-fast 5G wireless service declared national security priority by White House


Who would have thought that the president who writes in 140-character missives would suddenly be interested in 70 Gbps wireless internet access?

The White House released its congressionally-mandated National Security Strategy report (warning: PDF) yesterday. Tucked away in a section on improving America’s infrastructure was this action item: “We will improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide.” Other than natural gas, 5G wireless service was the only area of technology to get a specific calling out for infrastructure.

5G wireless isn’t a specific technology per se, but rather a set of standards and technologies that interoperate in the millimeter wave spectrum to meet the needs of users today. That includes better performance around latency and bandwidth, as well as support for low-power, many-device contexts due to the rise of Internet of Things.

The standards have been discussed and researched for years, and TechCrunch has talked about its promise before in 2015 and how that promise seems ever more distant just earlier this year. There is hope though that the technology will soon see the light of day since Verizon just announced that it will launch its first U.S. service of the technology next year in Sacramento and up to five other cities.

Now, a line in a report in Silicon Valley would be useless — people want to see actual products, not talk of products. But in Washington D.C., these sorts of coordinated reports are designed to send a signal throughout the government on how a particular administration sees policy issues. As such, they are important for setting the guidelines for future actions of the federal government. By attaching wireless connectivity into national security, the Trump administration is putting its heaviest hand behind such a recommendation.

In addition to supporting 5G wireless rollouts, the report dived into a bunch of startup and tech-related recommendations. Subtweeting Obama-era programs like DIUx, the Defense Department’s designated agency for interfacing with Silicon Valley, the report demands that federal agencies use startup technology more quickly in the field and pushes for a more agile deployment strategy. It also encourages more collaboration between technology companies and the Defense Department.

The administration also lists what it says are the critical next-generation of technologies that will underpin the American economy (or put another way, what do DCers read on TechCrunch): “To maintain our competitive advantage, the United States will prioritize emerging technologies critical to economic growth and security, such as data science, encryption, autonomous technologies, gene editing, new materials, nanotechnology, advanced computing technologies, and artificial intelligence.“

While reasonably clear, the report also has some two-faced challenges around immigration. The strategy argues that “The United States must continue to attract the innovative and the inventive, the brilliant and the bold,” but then includes pages of recommendations on strengthening borders and immigration controls that would seem to run directly counter to this high-priority goal.

In short, the strategy is about what you would expect from this administration. Except for 5G wireless. Because the president really needs less latency for his tweets.

Featured Image: Paulo Otávio/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Muse is a simple dedicated Amazon Alexa add-on for the car


Want to bring Alexa into your vehicle? You now have a few options, including a new $49.99 accessory from voice tech company Speak Music, which is launching Muse, essentially a Bluetooth-enabled Amazon Echo for the car. The small device allows you to access Alexa skills while on the go, using voice commands and the “Alexa” wake word, while connecting to your in-car stereo system via Bluetooth, aux input or USB.

Muse uses your smartphone’s data connection to connect to the Alexa service, which in turn provides you the ability to stream music, listen to live streaming radio stations, command your smart home gadgets while you’re away or even make hands-free calls. You can also get news briefings, listen to audiobooks, add to your shopping list, check the weather and more.

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The Muse ships with a dual socket car USB charger for power, and a magnetic mounting kit. It’s a small, circular gadget which should be relatively easy to stick somewhere on your dash, and it has back and forward buttons as well as a microphone button for physical activation (though it passively listens for the Alexa wake word, too).

There are other methods for getting Amazon’s voice assistant in your car, including first-party support from some manufacturers, but also via accessories like the Garmin Speak with Alexa, which became available just last month. The Speak also has full access to Amazon’s skill library, but builds in Garmin voice-based turn-by-turn navigation and a small, simple OLED screen too for $150, too. You could also plug an Echo Dot into power and connect it to your Smartphone via hotspot.

Muse is the same price as an Echo Dot, however, and offers all the same Alexa functionality, with a form factor and features designed for the car. It seems like the best and most affordable way to bring Alexa into your vehicle at the moment, but we’ll see how well it performs in the real world when it ships starting in December. Those interested can pre-order now for pre-Holiday shipping.

Researchers discover aluminum foil actually does improve your wireless speed


Researchers at Dartmouth University have found that a 3D printed shape covered in aluminum foil can improve wireless range and increase Wi-Fi security. The project, which appeared on Eurekalert, involves placing a reflector on and around a Wi-Fi router’s antennae to shape the beam, increasing range and preventing it from passing through to unwanted spaces.

“With a simple investment of about $35 and specifying coverage requirements, a wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars,” said Xia Zhou, a Dartmouth assistant professor.

In their paper, Zhou and his colleagues tested multiple styles of directional antennas and also tested an “anecdotal” solution that involved sticking a soda can behind a router to shape the radio waves towards a target. After a few iterations, they were able to create specific shapes to increase Wi-Fi reception in specific rooms. They then created a program called WiPrint that 3D prints the exact shape needed to form the beams for better coverage and security. Once printed all you have to do is cover them in aluminum foil.

The team found that their reflectors could accurately shape Wi-Fi beams to avoid some spaces and favor others, thereby increasing security and coverage. For example, you could shape your beam to avoid going out a window into the street but be stronger in a room nearby.

They haven’t yet released the software but rest assured that your grandpa was right: aluminum foil and antennas do mix.

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